I’m going to run with the usual format I use on my other review site for this game review. It’s what I’m used to doing, and it seems to cover all the bases.
For the record: Burning Games approached Gnome Stew with a request for this review to coincide with their Kickstarter campaign. (More info about the Kickstarter campaign at the bottom of the review.) They provided their “starter set” free of charge, but we’re not being sponsored or paid for this review.
Just the Facts
Title: FAITH: A Garden in Hell — Starter Set
Publisher: Burning Games
Description: FAITH is a science fiction RPG set in an alternate future several hundred years from today. The universe is dark and unforgiving, and technology and biological experimentation live side-by-side with a pantheon of gods. Traveling through the stars and exploring worlds is key to the survival of humanity, and the other starfaring races.
Score: 4 out of 5
There are two different covers to consider here. One graces the box and the main campaign book, and the other is displayed on the rulebook that came in the box set. Both sets of artwork are very well done and evoke what to expect between the covers of the books and in the other materials in the box. I think the only thing missing from box/campaign cover art is the indication that something isn’t quite right with the “garden” the PCs find themselves in. The simple addition of a shadowy figure looming behind some plants in the garden would have really added that special touch. Even without this aspect in the artwork, these are great covers.
Score: 4 out of 5
The mechanics provided use cards, not dice, to determine who goes first, if actions can succeed, and so on. It’s an interesting economy since each player gets seven cards (with some chances to draw more) for each scene. The economy here is to use the higher scored cards for vital actions, and not waste them on things like initiative… unless, of course, going first in a round is vital to end the scene in a favorable manner. I can see the hand of seven cards being exhausted rather fast, which invokes the draw mechanic of the rules. I wish I’d had a chance to run several scenes for my regular group to test this approach to handling conflicts. I did run a “mock combat” with some of the pre-generated characters and some NPCs from the NPC deck. It flowed smoothly and seemed to work, but the cards did get used up rather fast. I guess some mental adjustment in how to approach the use of cards would be in order. I don’t think this would take too much effort.
For the players, being able to determine what the “to hit roll” actually is by playing certain card(s) is neat. This is especially true since there’s no way of knowing what the GM might have in hand to counter actions. This is a cool bluffing portion of the game, but may not go over well with players (or GMs) that aren’t very good in this area of gaming.
Score: 4 out of 5
The prose in the rulebook was pretty sparse as it focused mainly on explaining the rules. See the Mechanics section for my impression of this book.
The campaign book is full of great descriptions and evoked the proper sensations and feels at the different parts of the game play. I think the “box text” was a little heavy throughout the campaign, but this barely detracted from my experience reading the book. I typically paraphrase the box text from any supplement, and the provided text would allow me to do this with ease.
Score: 5 out of 5
Burning Games made an interesting choice with their two books. They didn’t open the books with a table of contents or place an index on the last page. Instead, they placed a detailed table of contents (that almost reads like an index) on the back covers of both books. It actually took me a bit of flipping around to figure this out, but now that I know it’s there, I like it. I’m not sure this would work well for a stand-alone book, but it’s cool in a box set.
The interior layouts of both books is well done. The font fell in line with the sci-fi feel, the spacing around the headers and size of the headers made it really easy to find the sections I looked for.
There’s an additional piece that I’m not sure if it lands in layout or mechanics. It’s a little of both, but I’ll put it here. There is a GM outline of the entire campaign. It lines up with the four acts (and epilogue) of the campaign with checkboxes for the chapters, encounters, and optional events. There’s a key on the front page to assist GMs in marking success, failure, or pending events within the campaign. It’s almost like a flowchart, but much simpler than what most people picture when they think of a flowchart. I think this is a great game aid that I wish more of the complex campaigns would do. This allows the GM a high-level overview of the events and knows how one success or failure can impact something later.
The only thing I wish Burning Games had done with the pre-generated characters and the GM outline is grant permission to photocopy on the pages themselves. I know most people would do this anyway, but it’s nice to give the legal permission for these types of materials. Also, these sheets are on the typical “slick paper” that is found in RPG books. This makes it very difficult to write on with most writing implements found at a gaming table. Standard office paper would have been better, but this is a minor nit-pick.
Score: 5 out of 5
Since this is a box set, I’m lumping the non-box, non-book artwork into “interior art.” The “interior” items containing artwork are the character portfolios, four over-sized creature cards, a Gear & NPC deck of cards, the Playing Deck (which is key to the gameplay), and two books.
The artwork on the character folios are great. They help ground the players in what their pre-generated characters look like. The art matches the text descriptions, so there’s no dichotomy of imagery going on there.
The creature cards are key monsters and/or encounters the players must overcome during the course of the campaign. They’re great quick-reference cards, and can easily be flashed to the players without them making out the vital details on the cards. All of them are well done, but I like the Carnivorous Grove the best. It looks like a fun encounter just from the artwork alone.
The Gear & NPC deck of cards is as wonderfully illustrated as it is useful to the game. The GM gets to keep the NPC cards on their side of the screen for reference, but can flash the cards to show the players what the NPCs look like. The gear cards are also very useful to hand out and give the players ideas about what their equipment looks like.
The playing deck artwork is absolutely gorgeous! I wouldn’t mind a few prints of some of the cards hanging on my walls here at home. Most playing decks along these lines I’ve seen with other systems have simplistic artwork (for expense reasons) or it looked like the artists had done so many cards that they just “phoned in” a few illustrations. That’s not the case here.
Lastly, the interior artwork on the books is equally stunning. There are a few maps that could stand on their own as pieces of art. When a publisher does this, the maps are generally hard to read or make sense of. I didn’t have either of those problems with the maps contained within the campaign book. If I could give more than 5 points here, I would.
Score: 3 out of 5
These bonus points are where I measure the “cool factor” or “I really want to play this” angles. It’s more subjective than any other section, which is why they are bonus points. By adding in these points, it’s actually possible for a game to receive more than 25 total points.
There are some neat aspects of FAITH here. I love the world built up in the campaign book, and the flowchart in the GM’s handout is top-notch work. I love the look and feel of the artwork, and the people behind putting the content of the books together really know their stuff.
I think my only “gut feel” downside to the whole game is the lack of dice and the use of a hand of seven cards to replace rolling for resolving actions. Maybe this is me being stuck in a rut with dice. I would love to have a chance to see how this plays out with my regular group and see what their opinions are of the use of cards for taking care of action resolution.
Overall Score: 25 out of 25
FAITH looks like a neat game in an interesting space of pseudo-magical biological enhancements and far future tech. It feels a wee bit like “magical Traveller” to me, which feels like a huge dichotomy of words to use like that, but that’s the sense I get from the game. I think anyone that likes Firefly (either as a TV show or as a game), but wants some “far out” elements would really enjoy this game.
The folks over at Burning Games have started up a Kickstarter campaign  to fund a core book for the game. There are even miniatures involved! The minis look fantastic, and if the core book is of the same quality as the Starter Set I reviewed, you’ll be in for a treat if you back the Kickstarter. I currently have my eye on the “Believer” level, so I can land a physical copy of the book along with some bonus decks and any stretch goals that are unlocked. I’m also going to throw in some extra Euro for several sets of the player decks as add-ons just so each player can have their own deck to draw from and shuffle.